FoBCA Newsletter 2023 No. 1
Have you ever wondered why Easter Weekend tends to herald the onset of the Cape's colder season? Our outdoor sports enthusiasts, especially the surfers, probably know that with a new or a full moon comes stormy weather. The fact that Easter is always the first Sunday after the paschal full moon (which was 6 April this year - the day before Easter weekend) logically leads one to assume that bad weather over this holiday can be predicted with certainty. Thereafter the cold fronts keep rolling in and autumn rapidly turns to winter. But snuggle into your blanket and enjoy your long-awaited FoBCA Newsletter!
Battle of Blaauwberg - 14 January 2023 Anniversary Event
On this warm and windy Saturday morning, BBNR was a hive of activity.
Walkers took off on 3 different routes with their respective guides: the Battle of Blaauwberg walk and talk, led by Dave Honour and Les Powrie; the Two Hills walk, led by Natalie Bossi; and a Botanical walk, led by Petra Broddle and Kay Loubser. All were well attended.
Dave and Les giving the battlefield group a brief overview of the Battle before the trek south.
It was a pleasure to have some youngsters on the Two Hills walk.
Ready for the Renosterveld!
Gathering up on the Hill for refreshments.
The highlight of the day was without a doubt the firing of the 9-Pounder. The cannon was dedicated to Friends of BCA by Ian van Oordt, as a memorial to honour those who made the ultimate sacrifice on 8 January 1806. Ian sadly passed away 2 days before the anniversary event and the firing ceremony was performed by Roy Fuller-Gee, who gave a moving tribute to Ian, his passion and contributions to Battle of Blaauwberg research over the years.
Roy Fuller-Gee saying a few words in honour and rememberance of Ian van Oordt.
The 9-Pounder in action - a thrilling moment for all present!
Take a look at the action video on YouTube.
Thanks to the staff of BBNR, Quemic security rangers and Friends of BCA, we can say that the 2023 Battle of Blaauwberg Anniversary Event was a great success.
Results of City Nature Challenge 2023
Well done to all those who participated - you did us proud!
City of Cape Town made third place in number of observations and fourth in number of species. These are outstanding results considering our number of participants was less than 8 other cities - we have Tony Rebelo as our secret weapon!
We chalked up a whopping 3575 different species, representing 6.75% of the observations counted, compared to the winner whose species count was 3.36% of their observations. This just goes to show what a wonderfully diverse patch of Nature we have in our city.
FoBCA members played their part, especially Petra Broddle and Les Powrie, contributing 301 and 156 observations, and 201 and 60 species respectively.
The Women of Blaauwberg Hill Radar Station
There is more history to BBNR that the Battle of Blaauwberg. If you have been up the Hill you will know about the old radar station perched on the side with a stunning view over the sea.
As her research covers the work of women all over the Cape, we asked Lauren Jacobs if she could write a piece we could share with our members focusing on the women who worked at the Blaauwberg Hill Radar Station. Lauren's credentials are extensive (B.A.(Hons), M.Div.; International Michael Brown Change Agent; Desmond Tutu - Gerrit Brand Award Winner; Ted x Cape Town Speaker 2018; Next Generation Award Winner (Washington, U.S.A) 2019; Global Women's Empowerment Summit Speaker 2020; Literary Artist; Professional Author; Radio Host 729AM; Ordained Minister; Journalist; Equality Advocate) and her article makes for interesting reading.
When South Africa entered World War 2 on the side of Britain and the Allies, it was not a unanimous decision politically. Prime Minister Smuts knew his adversaries held deep pro-Nazi sympathies, and many Afrikaans-speaking South Africans could not bring themselves to side with the very nation who had placed their women and children in concentration camps just 40 years earlier. However, the Union sided with the Allies against Germany and Japan and with its entrance into the war, the South African coastline and seas, became vulnerable to attacks. While Germany was waging war in the North Atlantic Ocean, successfully using U-boats to destroy ships, Japan posed the greatest threat to South Africa by sinking Allied ships in the Mozambique Channel. In 1942 Germany steered its submarines towards South Africa and struck down British, American, Greek, Dutch and Brazilian ships.
Smuts took action to control the coastline and requested an effective radar system from England. As the radar system was delayed, South Africa decided to develop its own radar system and completed the task in absolute secrecy (the process of developing the radar system in South Africa is incredibly fascinating, but is beyond the scope of this article). Once the radar system was developed, stations were set up along the coast and the new Special Signal Services, the SSS, division was established.
The SSS was elite in that its duties were kept highly secretive; even top defence authorities did not know what the SSS activities included. The radar stations, when initially set up, were manned by male technicians and operators, but as the war dragged on, these soldiers received their commissions to active duty up in North Africa. It was then decided to recruit young highly-educated women to the positions of SSS operators. These were mostly English-speaking women from universities, who upon recruitment were required to take an oath of secrecy. Their training lasted 6 weeks, after which they made their way by train to Durban or Cape Town.
At Blaauwberg Hill, the engineer corps of the defence force constructed the buildings and the station became operational in the middle of 1942. At first it was manned by male operators under Sgt Misnum, but later many of these soldiers including the sergeant, left to serve on the frontlines of the war. Despite the difficult working conditions, the ladies of the SSS took over, as the job had to be done. Their task at any station was to plot activity on the radar and to send on any suspicious-looking activity to the main control room called Freddie, located at the Castle. Road access to Blaauwberg Hill would often make use of Blouberg beach and was extremely challenging for the supply truck bringing food and rations to the personnel. On a number of occasions the truck would get stuck in the soft sand and be delayed for hours.
Three years later, when the war came to an end, these elite division women packed up the radar stations. Each piece of equipment had to be noted down and accounted for. When the SSS was eventually disbanded, a few of the female operators were sent to North Africa, while others returned to everyday life. Each woman though could feel proud of the vitally important job they performed as part of the war effort - by monitoring the seas from Blaauwberg Hill’s radar station. – Written by Lauren Jacobs
To add to an interesting story, Roy recalls this memory: "We had a visitation by Geoff Mangin and Wenda Melck – she was an SSS Operator on Blaauwberg Hill, she last tracked a Military Troopship in 1945. I often tell the story about her looking out to sea in a “TITANIC film” scene, she was taken back in her memory to those “good Old Days” She passed away in Hopefield some years ago. I had the pleasure of taking them to the old Mess Building before it was re-furbished by City of Cape Town as it was derelict. We had taken tea, coffee and scones for a re-visit to the site."
If you'd like to read a more detailed history of the development of the radar system and stations in South Africa click here. Included are the experiences, although not on Blaauwberg Hill Station, of a female radar operator.
There have been a few changes in your committee since our last newsletter.
Our Battle expert Dave Honour has relocated to the UK, but is still very much involved in promoting BBNR and the Battle of Blaauwberg overseas and visits when he periodically finds himself on our turf. Taking over the Battle walks is qualified guide Leslie Powrie. If you haven't joined him on a BoB walk yet, do so - you won't be disappointed.
With the stepping down of Stephanie Muller, the position of Chairman of FoBCA stands vacant. Stephanie is still involved with the Two Hills Walk (along with Natalie Bossi) and assists with various administrative tasks behind the scenes.
Calendar of Events
There is still time to join this month's Beach Clean-up, 23 - 27 May.
FoBCA Membership Communication Team